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Council expectations of Auckland Transport

New Mayor Phil Goff is looking to stamp his authority over the Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) in new Letters of Expectation (LOE) to be agreed by the Council’s Finance and Performance Committee on Tuesday. The item to the committee saying that with council now into its third term there is “a need to re-set some of the expectations on the CCOs about their participation and commitment to a whole-of-group approach“. The LOEs are a first step in defining how the CCOs work, they set the high level goals that should ultimately flow though to those organisations Statement of Intent (SOI) and then though to other organisational documents.

The general expectations for all the CCOs are below:

  • CCOs need to take active steps to reinforce accountability to council. This will require strong leadership from Boards and chief executives, to build cultures and behaviours which recognise their organisations’ responsibilities to residents and ratepayers. Greater transparency in financial reporting is an important element of this. Additionally, CCOs need to work with council to develop new performance metrics which genuinely measure our success in achieving outcomes.
  • CCOs need to align their operations with council strategies. A key plank of this is participation in development of the refreshed Auckland Plan.
  • A stronger sense of collaboration in the council group is needed. This means collaborating across the other CCOs, and with council itself, to achieve group outcomes, and to maximise investment opportunities. As part of this, the shared services model and participation in group-wide policies remains important.
  • CCOs should develop a stronger focus on customer service. One aspect of this is engaging more actively with Local Boards.

But I want to focus primarily on the specific expectations for Auckland Transport. Through the letter the council deliver some good strong messages for AT about key areas AT should be focusing on but all done so though a velvet glove using terms such as “we invite you to” and “we welcome a discussion“. Some of the areas the council want AT to focus on conflict with how AT have been operating.

The letter outlines that AT should not just be focused on transport but also their role in placemaking, urban regeneration and improving environmental sustainability. They go on to say:

We invite you to broaden your perspective beyond transport models and engage with Council, its plans, and the other CCOs. This will require a courageous balancing of movement and place, and bold commitment to reallocating road space towards public transport and active modes

This is a substantial message and one, if enacted upon, that has the potential to dramatically change how AT works. As we’ve talked about in many posts, AT often tend to rely too heavily on modelling as a justification for why improvements can’t be made to streets, leaving them hostile for buses, bikes, and pedestrians all in the name of traffic flow. This is reinforced in the next paragraph.

Auckland’s growth means the efficiency of our existing transport network needs to be constantly improved. The bus network is the backbone of public transport, and this needs to be recognised in your priority setting. We invite you to consider expanding bus lane networks, extending bus lane operating hours and removing or modifying on-street parking. We recognise that while it is important that Auckland Transport makes evidence based decisions, these can be challenging as conflicts arise between perceived local needs and network priority. A stronger focus on effective communication, consultation, and problem solving is needed. We would welcome a discussion on how we could support you in this.

The next section gives AT a serve over their silo mentality including mentioning a piece of work not previously mentioned publicly but that we’ve been hearing noises about.

Council would like to see the draft SOI highlight Auckland Transport’s commitment to working with the council on strategic issues and giving effect to existing strategies. Council would also like a commitment from Auckland Transport to operating in a ‘no surprise’ manner through indicating to council as early as possible Auckland Transport operational decisions that are likely to have significant strategic implications. Some specific examples in the near term are:

  • the recent work undertaken by Auckland Transport in relation to the city centre’s transport network has strategic implications for the City Centre Master Plan, and should be resolved through a refresh of that Plan rather than through decisions made just by Auckland Transport

We’ve talked before about AT trying to scale back pedestrian amenity on Victoria St, outside of what will become the busiest train station in the country, all to squeeze more lanes of traffic in. As I understand it, that is just one example that AT were pursuing from a wider piece of work that directly ignored and contravene the councils publicly consulted strategic plans.

Some of the other key areas mentioned include these good points:

  • Work with Council to implement and embed the strategic approach and recommendations of ATAP, including addressing the funding gap.
  • aggressively pursuing strong growth in public transport use and active modes with refreshed targets, particularly through ensuring the new public transport network is successfully implemented with a strong customer focus.
  • ensuring full value is obtained from council’s very large investment in rail electrification by reducing journey times, particularly through shorter dwell times at stations and more efficient rail operations
  • ensuring good progress is maintained on delivering early works for the City Rail Link and preparation for the project’s main works
  • maintaining momentum on delivering the cycling programme, incorporating priority for cycling and walking into projects, and building the case for a continuation of central government’s Urban Cycleways Fund beyond 2018.

I like that the council are being quite specific in some of these, such as that rail journey times should be improved by fixing the station dwell times and that AT need to build the case for the Urban Cycleway Fund to continue beyond 2018.

Perhaps if there was one thing I would add it is that it doesn’t mention anything about implementing the Rapid Transit Network as it is only partially covered by the ATAP strategic approach point. The council should ask AT to look for innovative ways to deliver some earlier outcomes. Examples could include getting a busway to the airport from Puhinui, some prototype NW busway services in place and sorting out Dominion Rd buses prior to light rail.

We know that some sections of the community get upset and some quite vocal about the installation of bus and bike lanes and we know this flows through to AT. Far too often with transport projects (and not just in NZ), politicians are the proverbial road block to getting good transport outcomes. But in this instance the politicians are telling AT they want to be bold so perhaps what’s particularly good about this letter is it helps gives AT the political cover they need to make significant changes to our streets in favour of people.

The biggest question is, will AT listen?

45 comments to Council expectations of Auckland Transport

  • AKLDUDE

    This is great news! About time we had a mayor/council that will stand up and put CCOs in their place!
    Good call to pick the low hanging fruit of train dwell times and improving buses (bus lanes etc).

    • Yes, one of the biggest challenges with PT in a spread out city like Auckland is making it fast enough to be practical. Eg. from Verrans Corner in Birkdale, it’s a bit over 30 minutes to Britomart by bus. It’s about 30 minutes to Otahuhu by car. It’s just over one hour by bus and train to Otahuhu, and I don’t see any way to speed that up. Both parts of that journey, bus 974 and southern line, are reasonably direct and part of the frequent network. And that’s to a place right next to a train station.

      And then, turns out the new electrical trains are so much slower than those old diesels they had to pad the timetable. I wonder whether this was just plain ignorance or a case of white-anting.

      • Sailor Boy

        I used to live at Birkenhead, and any time close to rush hour the bus absolutely thrashes the car. The trick is to extend the bus lane so this isn’t rush hour only.

        • If you can start from Birkenhead town centre the bus will indeed be quicker. But as soon as you live a bit further out in Birkdale or Beachhaven, or if you have to spend some time walking to the bus, then driving will be faster, despite the mega queue on Onewa Road. And that assumes your destination is downtown, i.e. within walking distance of where the Birkenhead Transport buses stop. If you work even a little bit further out, buses become a lot slower than driving.

      • Josh

        The trains themselves are not slower, its the operating procedures implemented that are (speed limits pulling into stations and opening/closing door system. I’m sure these will eventually change as per the Mayors request.

        • I don’t think there’s a lot of people on those trains who care why exactly those trains are so slow. The doors, the signalling, waiting for this little ramp to extend below the door, whatever.

          Some heat from the council to solve this would be good.

  • Brian

    Finally the Council is reminding it’s CCOs that they are controlled by the Council rather than the ones in control. This will be a shock to AT.

    A long overdue shock.

  • Ricardo

    There’s ‘being bold’ and there’s ‘being stupid’. The recent introduction of T3 lanes and bus only lanes is plain stupid. Being bold is making ALL forms of traffic flow, being stupid is obsessing about one at the cost of all others. We end up with a situation where half of the roading real estate is empty and the other half (non T3/BusLane) congested. Makes the anti-car brigade burst with excitement but does nothing for a city that tries to pretend it is progressive and intelligent. The smartest thing is to introduce two lanes, each way, no parking, on ALL arterials, greatest flow rates for all main corridors. And when two lanes can flow properly, like it or not, buses move faster too. Notice that when buses are on strike and bus lanes can be used by all the traffic actually flows incredibly well, better than normal.

    • TimR

      Riiiight. You argue for flow (of things you like), and argue against flow (of things you dislike). So our aim is to fill the road with cars going nowhere, huh? Your ignorance is exactly why organisations like AT need a kick.

    • Stuart Donovan

      Go with the flow Richardo,
      Rather than uttering no no no,
      To all changes in strategic direction,
      That don’t fit your vehicle predilection.

      Go with the flow Richardo,
      And avoid the impending sorrow,
      Which you seem destined to meet
      When we reclaim the street.

      Anon 2016

    • Peter Nunns

      Ricardo, you persistently come and leave the same basic comment on blog threads. I can point to other instances where you’ve made the exact same comment about bus lanes / T3 lanes being bad for people flow on streets, plus related comments about cycle lanes etc. When questioned or challenged to provide evidence, you seldom reply and never actually provide any data to back up your opinions.

      In other words, you persistently violate our user guidelines, most notably 8i (“obsessive arguing”), 8ii (“repeated statements without facts”), 6 (“opinions are not facts”), and 4 (“moaning about the blog is boring”). I would invite you to read our user guidelines and consider how they apply to your comments.

    • Alex F

      Wrong again Rick.

      Buses flow best when they are in their own corridor, not sharing with other traffic.

    • Josh

      Your logic is not very logical.

      Single occupancy cars holding up buses and high occupancy cars is not the best solution even by you logic. Think flow of people rather than flow of objects.

    • So the Northern Busway is stupid? It’s a facility that gives people a choice. That choice is travel in congested lanes or decide to do it another way i.e. the bus. (Your proposal just offers degrees of congestion). Currently about 50% of those travelling from the Shore have decided to use the bus for whatever reason and there will be many. It’s obviously enormously popular and even though it has been in place for many years patronage is currently growing at 16% annually.

      So from my viewpoint lets have buslanes on Dominion Road say, if that looks a good option. And for those who don’t like the bus there are at least two other easy options to commute to and from the city -Mt Eden and Sandringham Road.

      We can’t build more roads in the city -look at the huge cost to only acquire land on Lincoln Road.

      Commonsense; overseas experience; climate change; lack of success with current initiatives amongst other things suggest we have to find other ways to those that are not currently working.

  • Jeff T

    Wow. Some of the key figures in council see the issues. And have heard the complaints around dwell times.

    I’m not convinced on Lester Levy’s drive on these issues. Hop on some trains and buses, Lester. Maybe it’s time for fresh blood at the top.

    • Stuart Donovan

      I have no idea of Lester’s effectiveness as I’ve never met him, or even seen him talk.

      However in the scheme of things Lester seems quite “fresh”, no? AT as an organisation is circa 5 years old, and I think Lester joined about 2-3 years ago. Lester is also working within constraints created by factors beyond his control, e.g. most board members were appointed by others, as were the CEO and senior AT staff.

      I wonder if, rather than clamouring for change in personnel, it’s better for us to give people some time to make change happen in response to this new direction? It’s possible that Lester was involved in getting this to happen in the first place.

      Personally, I think this is a great initiative by Council, which will also ultimately benefit AT. For example, when it comes to consultation, they can more easily implement strategically important schemes in spite of public opposition, and direct complaints to Council. But I would suggest we give this initiative a chance to success without necessarily chopping off people’s heads willy nilly.

      If Auckland still has worst-practice dwell-times on its EMUs in 12 months time, then it’s perhaps time for heads to roll.

      • Jeff T

        Just reading on Dr Levy, Stu, an issue may be that he’s spread too thinly. He’s been shoulder tapped to head three DHBs, is chair of AT, has a teaching gig at Auckland Uni, amongst other things. Might be time for a dedicated person with a PT and urban liveability slant.

      • Dan C

        heads should have rolled when after months and months of testing, the new electric trains had not just worst practise but worse than what we had before dwell times. It’s now years later and nothing has changed, no heads have rolled.

        Even if things improve in a years time, heads should have rolled long ago about this. KPIs have not been set appropriately if the introduction of electric trains can fail so badly and 2.5 years later nothing has improved and no consequences have been felt by those responsible.

        • Bigted

          Dan the biggest issue with dwell times is the door system At insisted on, even the Wellington trains have what became known as ‘the Auckland system’ after it was designed for the SAs and still used on the ADLs. There are people that like to point out that Wellingtons dwell time are shorter than Aucklands but they are not comparable.

  • Ari

    AT will listen, but they will only hear what they want to hear.

  • I agree with Ricardo a little here. One of the things that annoys the heck out of me is parking on ring roads and main arterial roads. On main roads such as The Great south road in Takanini one car parked causes a whole heap of merging and dirsruption to the way traffic moves. If these busy corridors were roads not car parks flow would improve. Priority needs to be assessed do we have parking and disrupt the flow or do we have two lanes of constant flow OR better still one lane for public transport and one for the cars with one or two people. On ring roads such as we have around the Papakura business district and Pukekohe business district there should be no parking. The whole point of a ring road is to take traffic flow out of the shopping area. Also traffic flow in your main shopping areas should be reduced to a crawl to allow people to walk and cycle without feeling threatened by cars.
    In the end the purpose of a road is to move people efficiently and parking on main arterial roads does not do this.

    • Alex F

      Add to the list:
      Great North Road in New Lynn
      New North Road in Mount Albert
      Manukau Road (pretty much all of it)
      Mount Eden Road

      • Dale Anthony

        Add onewa road as well.

        All it means is more staff recruitment for those CCOs justifying we have to do more collaboration and it now takes longer. Nothing will change.

      • Missing Link

        To be fair to AT, they often try to remove parking on arterial roads and then a local board representing the local businesses will advise AT that the parking must be kept. Or some litigious property owner with big lawyers will put the hammer down on them. And if you’re a grunt at AT constantly getting negative feedback no matter what you propose, I imagine you just go f##k it, accept a half arsed solution and move on.

    • PshemK

      I think that AT needs some simple rules regarding those issue. Like – more than 6 buses/hour – a T2, over that – a dedicated bus lane. No parking on arterial roads. Similar set of generic rules for on-street parking and then they can be uniformly applied to the whole city, like they’ve started doing with the town centres already.

    • 01anthony

      I don’t think people were disagreeing with Riccardo about flow, just rather his goal of what is going to ‘flow’. cars with 1 or 2 people in them, or a bus with (hopefully) 20-40 people.

      Great South Road in Takanini would be perfect to remove parking from – When I do take the bus from Papakura to Manukau I always shake my head at the fact it hasn’t been done already. Bus lanes and no parking from 7-10am heading north, and the same heading south from 3pm-7pm.
      The same should go for most if not all arterial roads in Auckland.
      In terms of budgets and expenditure, its one of the cheapest and quickest ways of getting bus moving and getting them to be reliable and punctual. The fact that buses sit in the same traffic as a single occupant vehicle is crazy and does nothing to motivate a person to catching a bus.

  • The biggest question is, will AT listen?

    AT will when they replace the CEO. We need a 21st Century CEO not one stuck in the 1960s pro road dogma.

    As for the rest well this is a good chance for Goff to stamp his mark. An example? Getting that busway from Manukau to the Airport via Puhinui all complete by 2020 given the screaming headlines over the weekend about the Airport congestion.

    Your move AT.

    • 01anthony

      Agree 100% regarding the Airport bus way. Very simple and effective way of moving lots of people to and from the airport quickly and efficiently.

  • Dale Anthony

    All it means is more staff recruitment for those CCOs justifying we have to do more collaboration and it now takes longer. Nothing will change.

  • nonsense

    I work for a CCO and the air of change is definitely been felt and the upper levels are starting to worry, which is a very good thing

  • Warren S

    Somebody needs to sort out public transport to the airport. I am appalled by the car mode only that is currently the position.

    And of course, the parking income is a near monopoly cash cow for the Airport Company.

    The Government, NZTA , AT and Auckland Airport really need to co-operatively lift their game in the management and provision of appropriate public transport to our nation’s busiest airport. The present single mode only is not sustainable.

    • Absolutely transportation to the airport is a mess. I’d be interested to know how numbers using this route currently compare with those who might use the Wellsford to Puhoi road today. Note that I am not interested in the 20,000 who might be living near Wellsford some time in the future due to induced demand. Could the airport route possibly stack up as a RoNS? What if we adjusted the discount ratio might it then stack up? Or add in any other assumptions that we can think of?
      Why is it that projects such as Puhoi/Wellsford seem to be foreseeable (this explanation will be interesting) when the airport route is not? And how will this route cope with around another three thousand arriving over a short time frame (hours) and possibly leaving over a much shorter time frame post the opening of the new convention centre?
      Could the CRL Aotea Station have played a part in this?

  • The Real Matthew

    I’ve been saying for some time that the Council has been run by bureaucrats not the elected Mayor and Councilors so I’m delighted to see Goff taking this stance. It’s a pity however that he has chosen this topic. We’ve invested millions upon millions in cycle lane development and the gains in people cycling have been disappointing compared to the expenditure. AT’s goals should relate to every mode of transport, not one of two modes that the populous largely doesn’t use.

    This also shows just how bad a mayor Len Brown was.

  • George

    Council would like to see the draft SOI highlight Auckland Transport’s commitment to working with the council on strategic issues and giving effect to existing strategies. Council would also like a commitment from Auckland Transport to operating in a ‘no surprise’ manner through indicating to council as early as possible Auckland Transport operational decisions that are likely to have significant strategic implications.

    This is a very strong statement.

  • Sailor Boy

    Good to see the Mayor taking a stance on this. AT’s purpose is to enact policy, not to set it.

  • MB

    Is there a link to the ATEED letter? I’d be fascinated to read that one…

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